restricted access Introduction: Toward a Global History of Anthropology
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INTRODUCTION Toward a Global History of Anthropology T he last decades of the twentieth century saw an increasing reconciliation between the disciplines of anthropology and history. Moving beyond the synchronic method of participant observation, anthropologists began to infuse a temporal dimension into the societies they studied . Conversely, historians realized that the temporal divide separating them from their sources was similar to the cultural division separating anthropologists from their subjects of study.1 But even as historians and anthropologists reached across this methodological divide, they realized that certain types of studies could not be bridged. The interplay between anthropology and history bore fruits in the local understanding of a particular society’s historical development. When this historical approach was placed within a global context , however, anthropologists balked at the resulting loss of methodological applicability. Despite these conflicts, world historians have embraced anthropology with open arms, as Jerry Bentley suggests: “Anthropological and ethnohistorical inspiration has been most important for scholars examining the results of encounters between peoples of different civilizations or cultural regions. . . . Even when anthropologists and ethnohistorians have not specifically intended their works as contributions to world history, they have often thrown useful light on the dynamics of cross-cultural encounters.”2 Bentley’s caution that anthropologists may not have intended their work to service world historians is an understatement. Anthropologists are, on the whole, less than enthusiastic about global approaches. Generally specializing in a single society, anthropologists fear the work of world historians may eclipse the significance of their localized studies. Practitioners argue instead that global events (such as imperialism) have and continue to experience local negotiations. Such negotiations may lessen or augment the impact of global occurrences. While expressing concern that global historical approaches may obscure local agency, anthropologists also argue that one should understand history not “in abstract, but in terms of moments of cultural entanglement [involving different social players].”3 This approach favors a “particulariz1 ing anthropology,” which understands historical events locally rather than globally.4 Anthropology’s shift from globalism to localism has been gradual. Eric Wolf, a noted anthropologist critical of his own discipline, commented on its origins: “Anthropology, ambitiously entitled The Science of Man, did lay special claim to the study of non-Western and ‘primitive’ peoples. Indeed, cultural anthropology began as world anthropology.”5 In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for example, anthropologists traced the psychological underpinnings of humans or mapped shifting cultural areas in their comparative studies. Shortly before the Great War, however, anthropology’s global consciousness dissipated. Practitioners became dissatisfied with the grand narratives of their predecessors and preferred small inquiries within clearly delineated areas. These anthropologists limited their studies to a single non-Western society, and comparative studies generally materialized as a consequence of theoretical comparison. The chief advantage of this method was the establishment of anthropology as a university discipline. When funding agencies eventually shifted their emphasis to local inquiries, subsequent generations of anthropologists conformed accordingly.6 Generally , anthropology’s resort to localism and its neglect of global contexts fell victim to what some have labeled a collective “disciplinary amnesia.”7 In recent years historians of anthropology have returned some of the global flavor to the discipline. Up until a few decades ago such approaches were plagued by celebratory accounts extolling theoretical directions at the expense of alternative approaches.8 Over the last three decades, however, historians of anthropology led by George Stocking have developed a distinctive subfield of anthropological inquiry.9 A cornerstone of this inquiry lies in Stocking’s notion of “multiple contextualization,” an approach that locates a particular national tradition’s development in numerous social and cultural contexts affecting anthropology.10 Laudably, such contexts include extra-European arenas, in particular the all-encompassing Euro-American imperial reach.11 Even so, historians following Stocking’s lead frequently adhere to a particular “national” anthropology, be it British or American, or, more recently , French and German. Such histories are at odds with world history’s agenda, which seeks to transcend the nation state so as to delve into global accounts. DELINEATING ANTHROPOLOGY’S GLOBAL HISTORIES World historians propose to transcend national boundaries for a more global historical analysis. Within this system, two approaches are worthy of note. The first is an inversion of analytical categories. Proponents of this approach 2 Introduction have traditionally been world historians whose work centers on comparisons between Europe and East Asia. England, for instance, set the norm for industrialization , prompting researchers to ask why similar events were rare outside of the European continent...


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